On Sunday 5th June 2016, I will set off from Tunstall, Sunderland, the former home of the poet William Martin, and walk to Durham Cathedral, arriving some six to eight hours later, via a route of around fourteen miles.
I will be following as closely as I can a route which William – Bill – and his friend, Gordon Brown, along with family, friends and other artists, mapped out and walked each summer solstice, through the historic landscapes of north-east Durham. Bill’s walk, in memory of the ‘Haliwerfolc’ – the people of Saint Cuthbert – was itself a palimpsestuous perambulation (or, simply, a layered walk) in which he retraced the final journey of Cuthbert’s coffin as it was carried from Lindisfarne and laid finally to rest in a tomb at Durham Cathedral.
The route traces former railways lines of the east Durham coalfield, including a gravity track which ran through Warden Law down to significant coastal collieries and ports and docks at Wearmouth and Seaham Harbour. It begins at Tunstall Hills, which Bill affectionately referred to as the ‘Maiden Paps’ (evoking the Goddess, or the spirit of the land), and continues through farmland, fields and hills, as well as suburban or semi-rural villages, between Durham and Sunderland.
Walking through this part of the world, Bill connected the beautiful natural landscape with its vestigial, industrial scars, but he also sought to ensure that respect was paid in the contemporary world to the people of the region: its working-class solidarity and traditions; its healthy respect for the relationship between people and place; and its continuing draw as a source of inspiration for poets, artists and musicians who, if not born here, have made the region their home.
Bill’s own practice as a writer and artist drew as much on worldwide traditions of spirituality, religiosity and artistic connotation as it did on the micro-level of north-eastern folklore, street games and songs. Because of this, his work, while firmly entrenched in the east Durham landscapes which he inhabited, does not feel bound by it: instead, he is rooted here, but has branches and tendrils of thought spanning out in multiple directions. His poetry, as a result, is a rich tapestry of stimulation and reworking; and it is in this celebratory vein of the local artist connected to a global world that this walk will be undertaken.
If you wish to join me, please get in touch. A full blog post, detailing the walk, will be made in the weeks after the event, and if you can’t join this year, it is my intention for this walk to continue annually.